Royal Orchestral Society


You have to love the Royal Orchestral Society for Amateur Musicians, firstly for its title, which clearly no brand consultant has been near since its foundation in 1872. Yes! that makes it the oldest London orchestra still in existence, founded by the Duke of Edinburgh (not the present incumbent, but an earlier Duke, the second son of Queen Victoria and a keen violinist.) The LSO come in second place, formed over thirty years later. Manchester was way ahead of the capital,of course, with the creation of the Hallé in 1858.

I now have the honour of being the orchestra’s Patron, having inherited the position from Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. But I was keen anyway to hear their recent concert, because I’ve become very interested in the state of amateur orchestras in the world today. I learned much of the orchestral music I know as a teenager playing oboe in our doughty local band, the Harrow Symphony. And my mother, for several decades, rarely missed a Tuesday night going out with her viola to play in the London Medical Orchestra; it’s one of the enduring memories I have of her. But so many of these ensembles operated as evening classes; and it’s at this level of local authority-funded adult education that financial cuts have been the heaviest. It’s a somewhat hidden world too; I’ve sometimes wondered, do people still do this, and in anything like the same numbers as before? (BBC TV’s recent All Together Now:The Great Orchestral Challenge didn’t entirely reassure me on this point.)

A key factor I remember from my own playing days is the ability and motivation of the conductor. How fortunate the ROS are to have Orlando Jopling in that role; he is also a top-rank cellist and a truly questing musician. I was glad to learn that the entirely competent-looking leader, Nicola Ihnatowicz, is a solicitor specialising in employment law. There followed an enjoyable concert, which included Ravel’s Left-Hand Piano Concerto, in a fascinating performance by Martin Roscoe; and William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. This was one of my A Level set works in 1972, and naturally I’ve been avoiding it ever since. Following this concert though, I haven’t been able to stop singing its jaunty tunes (scarily for those in earshot, when I get to ‘Thou Art Weighed in the Balance and Found Wanting…’ ) Walton thought that the premiere of this work in 1931 would be its only performance; but like the orchestra playing on this occasion, it has survived into a very different musical era from the days of its birth.

[Pictured – my voyage to Cadogan Hall led me through London’s most tasteful Christmas lights; these are in Sloane Square.]

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020